A typical landscape from the mountainous parts of rural Bulgaria. Photo: IvayloSt, Pixabay
We at ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com have been on a mission for a while now to acquaint readers around the world the incredible archaeological, historical, and cultural heritage of Bulgaria (as well as other, global topics) in a journalistic fashion that is both easily accessible and in-depth.
Given the popularity of listicle articles in the social media age, we thought we would also offer our readers this type of concise, bulleted articles, hopefully to serve as a gateway to exploring further Bulgaria’s archaeology and history.
Following is a list of 10 stunning facts about the tremendous heritage in terms of archaeology and history harbored by Bulgaria, nowadays a medium-sized country by both European and global standards.
1. Seven Major Historical Civilizations
Bulgaria’s location in Europe but at a crossroads with Asia and Africa. Map: Wikipedia
That’s not even mentioning paleontological discoveries, or the archaeology of very recent history such as the Balkan Wars, the World Wars, and the Cold War – which are also very significant fields.
2. Over 40,000 Archaeological and Historical Monuments
A surviving fortress fate from ancient Diocletianopolis, named after Roman Emperor Diocletian, in today’s spa resort of Hisarya in Central South Bulgaria. Photo: Nikolay Nachev, Pixabay
Today’s Bulgaria has more than 40,000 registered “cultural monuments", that is, archaeological and historical sites. These are just the officially registered ones, there are new archaeological sites that are being discovered all the time, and also known countless known sites that have not been explored yet.
3. Ranked alongside Italy and Greece in Archaeological ‘Wealth’
Typical architecture from Bulgaria’s National Revival Period (18th-19th century) in the picturesque town of Kovachevitsa in Southern Bulgaria. Photo: Tihomir Sokolov, Pixabay
It has become an often mentioned statement in Bulgaria that it could be ranked third in Europe, after Italy and Greece, in terms of the scope of its archaeological and historical heritage. However, the argument can also be made that Bulgaria’s heritage is certainly more diverse that those of Italy and Greece – going back to the seven major historical civilizations mentioned in 1. above, partly as a consequence of Bulgaria’s location at a continental crossroads.
A nearly 7,000-year-old gold bovine from the Varna Gold Treasure. Photo: European Parliament
The world’s oldest gold dates back to the 5th millennium BC is the work of the people of Europe’s first human civilization, which developed in the Neolithic and Chalcolithic in today’s Bulgaria and other parts of the Balkan Peninsula. There are five or six such prehistoric gold treasures that claim the title of the “world’s oldest gold" but all of them have been found in Bulgaria. The Varna Gold Treasure is the largest and most famous of those, but it is still just one of them.
5. World’s Oldest Writing – ‘Pre-Alphabetic Writing’, That is
This 8,000-year-old ceramic slab found recently in Southeast Bulgaria could contain the world’s oldest writing. Photo: Sliven District Administration
Nobody knows for sure which the world’s oldest writing, i.e. the earliest form of writing by humans is – but Bulgaria might one day be proven to be the site where it developed – at least with respect to what is called “pre-alphabetic writing". For the time being, there have been several cases of slabs, tablets, pottery fragments, clay altars, etc., with symbols identified as likely pre-alphabetic writing, which have been found in both Northern and Southern Bulgaria. The latest example in hand has been a slab found in Bulgaria’s Nova Zagora.
6. Oldest Town in Europe. And It Grew Rich on Rock Salt Bullions
Europe’s first stone fortress – built ca. 4,700 BC – had especially wide and sturdy walls. Photo: TV grab from BNT
The people of the Salt Pit Town in what is today Provadiya in Northeast Bulgaria, not far from the Black Sea and the site of the Varna Gold Treasure, made a fortune exporting bullions of rock salt all over Southern and Central Europe in the 5th millennium BC, and also built Europe’s first stone fortifications to protect their wealth. It also had some of the world’s oldest gold. Its is a fabulous story.
7. (Formerly) Oldest City in Europe – But Still Invaluable
Plovdiv’s 2,000-year-old Roman Antiquity theater with its 3,500 seats hosts modern-day events and performances all the time. Photo: Mojca JJ, Pixabay
For a long while the marvelous city of Plovdiv, the successor of the Antiquity city of Philipopolis, in Central South Bulgaria has been known as “the oldest city in Europe". Some of the latest excavations of its earliest historical core, the Nebet Tepe Fortress, have brought that into question. Nonetheless, Plovdiv remains one of the earliest cities in Europe, and its archaeological and historical heritage from the prehistory to this day is flabbergasting. It just has the best stuff in there.
8. Only European Country ‘Founded’ (in Early Middle Ages) under Name It Bears Today.
What was originally Old Great Bulgaria in today’s Ukraine and Southern Russia was “moved” towards the Balkan Peninsula in the 7th century AD. Map: Kandi, Wikipedia
Bulgaria was “founded" with that same name as early as the Early Middle Ages. This is another claim that has become somewhat of a “national pride" cliché, in Bulgaria at least – and, yet, it is not wrong, technically, it is entirely correct – when Ancient Bulgaars established a state of their own, most probably in 632 AD, the so called Old Great Bulgaria of Khan Kubrat, and when the center of that state was shifted under his son Khan Asparuh towards the Valley of the Lower Danube and the Balkan provinces of the Roman Empire – around the time of the Ongal Battle of 680 AD – the country in question was known as Bulgaria, the same name it bears today. That can hardly be said of any other European nation – unless you count countries “founded" in the Modern Era (from the 18th century onwards).
9. 6,000 Fortresses
The rather well preserved Mezek Fortress in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Seagul, Pixabay
In the Middle Ages, Bulgaria’s territory (which was larger than today’s) has some 6,000 fortresses and fortified settlements, many of them existing since prehistoric and Antiquity times. That claim is taken to refer primarily to the Bulgarian-populated territories on the Balkan Peninsula – that is, south of the Danube River and the period of the High and Late Middle Ages, although in the Early to High Middle Ages, the First Bulgarian Empire controlled substantially larger territories north of the Danube than it had south of the Danube. That seems to have been the case for a brief period also in the 13th century, in the early period of the Second Bulgarian Empire. While a few of these fortified medieval cities are famous in Bulgaria and beyond, most remain an entirely unknown but a more in-depth look at them often reveals stunning facts. Unfortunately, a large part of these fortress were destroyed by the Ottomans after they conquered the Balkans in the 14th – 15th century but many impressive structures have nonetheless survived, while others lie buried awaiting the archaeologists.
10. Best of the Black Sea
A lighthouse in the Black Sea city of Burgas in Southeast Bulgaria. Photo: Christo Anestev, Pixabay
Bulgaria has got the Black Sea, and perhaps “the best" part of its coast, and in particular, of the Black Sea coast, and even some islands. “The best" in that case would refer to archaeology and history (as well as nature). It was the Western Black Sea coast that the earliest prehistoric civilization of Europe emerged (the one mentioned above, with the Varna Gold Treasure and all), the site is also connected with stories about the Biblical Deluge, submerged cities and marvelous ports throughout the Antiquity and the Middle Ages.
This article includes information mentioned in the book “Plunder Paradise: How Brutal Treasure Hunters Are Obliterating History and Archaeology in Post-Communist Bulgaria” by ArchaeologyinBulgaria.com founder Ivan Dikov – available on Amazon.com.